I got interested in a research paper from 1991, which I cannot get an electronic online version of. The author was kind enough to send me his tex sources, but is himself unable to produce a pdf file from it. Now I am trying to get this file compiled.

The "style files" that are loaded start with a number of font command definitions that fail on my machine:









\font\elevenbf=ambx10 scaled 1095
\font\twelvesmc=amcsc10 scaled 1200
\font\fourteensmc=amcsc10 scaled 1440

Trying to compile this document in TeX results in errors of the form:

! Font \tenss=amss10 not loadable: Metric (TFM) file not found.

To start with the first line above, my system does not have a file msym5.tfm, and no package in Ubuntu contains a file named like this. I could find some versions of the file on the Web but I am unable to install this font without a map file (which I failed to find).

Is there a good way to get hold of old fonts to compile such old documents? Can I replace the definitions by something that works today? Unfortunately, I have no idea how the font is supposed to look in each case (the Web did not provide any clue), and some of the fonts might be symbol fonts used for special math characters.

  • This is exactly the kind of stuff I like to do on my spare time! :-) (However, instead of faithfully reproducing the original design, I like to use unicode and opentype fonts.) It looks to me like the fonts loaded in the style file would be AMS extensions for math symbols and styles (so \input amstex maybe).
    – morbusg
    Commented Apr 3, 2013 at 11:03
  • @morbusg But if the tfm files are not about tht won't help. I guess they've been renamed: I suspect Barbara Beeton is the person best placed to know.
    – Joseph Wright
    Commented Apr 3, 2013 at 11:17
  • 6
    These are very old files. The "Almost Modern" fonts were dropped very long ago (surely before 1991). You should be able to compile the file by changing am*** into cm*** in the font names. For msym the most plausible substitute should be msbm.
    – egreg
    Commented Apr 3, 2013 at 11:26
  • 2
    See also tex.ac.uk/cgi-bin/texfaq2html?label=amfonts
    – egreg
    Commented Apr 3, 2013 at 11:30
  • 1
    I'm still looking for a reference, but Knuth said to remove "Almost Modern Fonts" from archives and documents. As far as I remember, CM fonts were shipped with TeX82 (and the new MF82). A different matter is with msxm and msym fonts, released by AMS for AMS-TeX; these fonts were dropped and removed from archives with the release of version 2 of AMS-TeX; I believe this removal has been wrong, but AMS wanted users to switch to the new msam and msbm fonts. The article you have shows clearly that users are not very keen to updating their systems.
    – egreg
    Commented Apr 3, 2013 at 11:44

1 Answer 1


wow, that is an ancient file!

as egreg has said in a comment, the am* ("almost modern") fonts can be substituted by cm* (computer modern; there never was a "b" series, which one might have called "better modern" or "barely modern"), and msym should be replaced by msbm.

if i remember correctly, there were a few small changes between msym and msbm, but that font has been used mostly for the blackboard bold alphabet. the shapes of these letters are different in the two fonts -- in msbm a serif model was used, replacing the more "geometric" shapes in msym -- but the positions of the letters are the same so the output should have the same meaning.

regarding the switch from am* to cm*, the metrics are not guaranteed to be identical, so line and page breaks may not be the same as the original. nonetheless, the content should be identical in meaning.

one other change i would suggest is removal of the % signs following the font assignments; they're not necessary, and in the case of the scaled qualifiers, are actually somewhat inefficient, as they serve to cause tex to continue reading to determine if the scale factor is perhaps "10950" (an absurdity, of course, but tex is a program, and does only what it's told).

i think you should be grateful that these files weren't written for tex78; that's quite a different can of worms, and not as easily repaired. as it is, egreg's comment that some users were not very keen on updating their systems is right on. the cm fonts were shipped with tex82, and the msa* and msb* symbol fonts were released in 1985 (announced in tugboat 6:3). the removal of msx* and msy* may be decried, but it was the easiest way to ensure that requests for maintenance were curtailed; in those days, it was expected that font distribution included pixel files at several different resolutions, tuned for write-black or write-white printers, and maintenance was a much more time-consuming undertaking than it is today.

  • 1
    Thanks, I updated the code sample to avoid the unnecessary %. I had lazily copied from the original file, but you are right that we should not give bad examples here.
    – mak
    Commented Apr 3, 2013 at 13:06
  • Is it not the aim of Knuth and CTAN to make sure, that every file might be compiled everywhere and everytime? Well, Knuth talked about a hundred years. I think, it is a matter of fragmentation. In the long run, this is fatal. Every file should carry its own definitions,fonts and everything, even the program. From an archivers point of view: You do not only have to store, you have to know how to find and you have to know, how to read.
    – user186178
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 3:36
  • @MatthiasBorck-Elsner-- While Knuth can expect that his own installation of TeX will continue to be reliable for his lifetime (long enough to continue his work on TAOCP), the discontinuation of am***, msxm and msym by 1985 and replacement by functional equivalents has given the described paper a longer life than one can expect from many physical media. It's been suggested that a CD or DVD produced today may well not be readable for more than 10 years from now. Paper, even non-acid-free, has a longer shelf life. In that respect, TeX is remarkable. Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 4:11
  • @barbara beeton Remarkable it is. But, as a matter of fact, Knuth did transfer the craftmansship of typesetters to a program. A typesetter had a text and the description of formats and he had his lore. Today, the lore is spread over the net, thankfully kept in CTAN, but not in a way, I think to be useful in any case. I mentioned the fragmentation. TeX et al are famous to allow all variations. One variation should be, to keep documents as a standalone.
    – user186178
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 1:20
  • @MatthiasBorck-Elsner -- CTAN usually maintains only the most recent single version of packages, fonts, etc. Whether this is an essentially arbitrary decision or based on limited facilities, I don't know, but that's the situation. There is a site holding an archive of older versions, but I've forgotten its location at the moment. For a production site (like the AMS, with which I'm most familiar) to be able to unearth and reprocess old documents, it's necessary to maintain a local archive, which is done there. Plain TeX is reasonably stable; LaTeX allows periodic "breaks", as you observe. Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 2:15

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